Fight Sexual Assault on Campuses and in the Military

 

I have always fought for those without a voice. One of the most difficult fights in Congress has been my work fighting for sexual assault survivors on our college campuses and in the military. These women and men are too often cast aside by their institutions - it’s easier for administrators and commanders to ignore the rampant sexual abuse occurring in their ranks than to seriously face the problem. Survivors are fighting an uphill battle against stigma, sexism, and an administrative system that stacks the cards against them. I have met with countless survivors of sexual assault, and I am struck by the similarity of their stories, victimized by both their attacker and the institution that prevents them from seeking justice.

The epidemic of campus sexual assault has become far clearer in recent years. Studies have shown between 1 in 5 and 1 in 4 women in college will experience attempted or actual sexual assault before graduation. More than 100 universities have been investigated by the Department of Education for potential mishandling of sexual assault cases. This is beyond unacceptable. I have introduced comprehensive legislation to fight sexual assault, which would give the Department of Education more power to punish universities that fail to address sexual assault, create more publicly available data on sexual assault on campuses, and establish a private right of action for students to hold universities accountable for their failure to keep students safe. With a daughter who has recently graduated from college, I am personally disturbed by these numbers. The only thing our children should have to worry about at school is their schoolwork, not sexual assault.

In my first few years in Congress, I joined the House Armed Services Committee. In my service with the committee, I met with a number of survivors of sexual assault in our military, and was struck by both the violence of their stories as well as the common thread of difficulty in obtaining justice. A helmet signed by dozens of survivors sits in my office to remind me of their stories. Research on the subject is infrequent, but according to a 2012 Pentagon study, an estimated 26,000 men and women were sexually assaulted while serving their country over that year, up from 19,000 in 2010. It is telling that only 3,374 assaults, or 13.5% of the estimation, were reported that year. This points to the unjust system facing survivors, and the threat of retaliation that prevents our service men and women from reporting sexual assault. I have worked tirelessly on legislation, amendments, and other mechanisms to ensure our service members are able to serve without fear of their fellow warfighters. I have successfully passed a number of provisions into law, but there is always more work to be done to protect the women and men who serve our nation.